Posts Tagged ‘lesson plan’

Our blog series on using Civil War battles for instruction continues with our second post in the series . This series addresses using battles, specifically the battle of Gettysburg, to teach other topics related to the war. The posts in this series will provide class activities that can be completed in a class period or two. Most teachers we talk to here at Gettysburg on field trips or in workshops we host, don’t have the time built in their curriculum to go into great depth on any topic, let alone the Civil War. Our focus in this post will incorporating a primary source and analyzing of the text of the Gettysburg Address.

Battlefield Connections

As stated in the first post in this series, the teaching of battles is important to an overall understanding of the war and how the war is won and  lost. Often times in a Civil War curriculum, there isn’t time for extensive study of specific military strategy in individual battles. A battle such as Gettysburg allows for multiple connections for students and teachers to make to the content that don’t necessitate  an in depth understanding of military terms and names of specific commanders. Teachers can use the story of Union soldier  Pliny White ,who fought at Gettysburg, as a jump start to analyzing the Gettysburg Address.

Primary Source Backstory: Pliny White

14th VT monument at Gettysburg

Pliny White was born in the year 1838 in Starksboro, Vermont. White didn’t join the Union army in the initial rush to enlist in 1861, but will enlist in October of 1862 with the 14th Vermont regiment. This young Vermonter, who was 25 years old at the time, had signed up to serve in the United States army for 9 months.  He and the rest of the 14th Vermont were due to get out of the army in mid July of 1863. For most of their time in the army, Pliny and the Vermonters guarded the forts around Washington, D.C. But in the spring of 1863 that would change as the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia moved into Maryland and then Pennsylvania. On June 25, the Vermont regiment would be told to join the Union Army of the Potomac as it moved north in pursuit of the Confederates. The 14th Vermont and several other Vermont regiments would be part of the 2nd Vermont Brigade assigned to the First Corps. As an instructor , be sure to take time to discuss what a corps, brigade, and regiment are. Click here for a good web site to describe army organization.

This brief letter is perfect for use as a time sensitive classroom activity.

Ask students:

  •   How does Pliny reassure Lamyra about his potential death?
  • Why might he not feel “worthy” to meet her?

The Vermont men will defend Cemetery Ridge from the Confederate attacks and do very well for their first time in battle on the second of July. On July 3, they will be at the center of the Union line and face the onslaught of the Confederate attack – commonly known as Pickett’s Charge.

Tragically, Pliny White will be wounded very badly in the arm and be removed to one of the many hospitals near the battlefield. The doctors will have to amputate his arm. He will go to the hospital in the Lutheran Seminary west of town where he will stay for several weeks to recover. His fellow soldiers in the 14th Vermont will be getting out of the army while Pliny is in the hospital. This young soldier, like many on both sides, will never go home for he will die on August 5. He eventually will be buried in the Soliders’ National Cemetery in the Vermont section.

A nurse who took care of Pliny will write home to his family and say:

How my heart does ache to think about all the mothers and sisters at home

while their  loved ones are groaning and dying alone all because of this unjust war.

Is this war just? Is it right? Is it worth it? These questions were being asking by this nurse and others across the United States  in the summer and fall of 1863. Here is where we can use this letter to tie to a brief activity on the Gettysburg Address.







What is the purpose of the Gettysburg Address?

Teachers can use the letter from Pliny White’s nurse to springboard into a discussion of the Gettysburg Address’s meaning and purpose in the speech. Abraham Lincoln will journey to Gettysburg in November of 1863 to speak at the dedication of the cemetery that Union soldiers killed in the battle will be buried in. The speech’s significance is well documented, but how can teachers help students with limited background knowledge understand the significance of the speech. The ideas presented below can give teachers a series of lesson ideas that teach the significance of key parts of the speech and allow students to use text based evidence to support their work.

Give the students a starting point to support such as:

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is a speech that reminds the citizens what our nation was founded on and  justifies the sacrifice of men like Pliny White in the Civil War.

Use these guiding questions:

A. How does Lincoln remind people of the ideals America was founded on?

B. Where is Lincoln referring to the honoring and remembering soldiers who fought at Gettysburg like Pliny White?

C. How does Lincoln call people to continued action despite the deaths of men like Pliny White?

Teachers will want to ensure students have understandings of terms such as conceived, dedicate, consecrate, hallow, vain.

Gettysburg Address Activity Ideas:

  1. Give students 3 different color highlighters and printed copies of the Address. Designate different colors for the different guiding questions and highlight supporting text accordingly. Students then should support their selections in written or verbal form.
  2. Give students a copy of the Gettysburg Address with the portions of text already highlighted that answer the guiding questions. Ask the students to describe why those lines match the answers to the questions.
  3. Print out the text of the Gettysburg Address. Divide it into sections and cut those sections out for the students. Ask the students to arrange the sections in order and then select which sections would answer the guiding questions.
  4. Give students a copy of the Address and download a note taking guide below. Have students fill it in. This is a great activity for working in pairs or small groups. There is also a modified note taking guide.

Documents to download for the activity:

Gettysburg Address highlighted document

Gettysburg Address text based evidence graphic organizer

Gettysburg Address guiding questions modified document



For more in depth information, watch this video from NPS Ranger John Hoptak discussing Pliny White, the National Cemetery , and the Gettysburg Address. more videos like this are found on the Gettysburg National Military Park You Tube Page


Use the story of Pliny White to set the stage for class activities on the Gettysburg Address!

Comment below with questions or your own ideas about using the Gettysburg Address.


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Do we need to teach the details of battles as part of the Civil War units?

Students often ask me when we discuss the Civil War – how do you win a battle in the Civil War? I try to describe some basic answers to my 8th grade students but to understand the meaning of victory in a battle, students must understand how the battle fits in to the bigger context of the war. A basic knowledge of a battle in the Civil War can  help students understand things such as strategies and political decisions. Students may struggle at time to put everything in context and understand the military jargon and plans , but are there other things that a battle can be used to teach? There may not be time to go into the detailed aspects of battles such as troop movements and detailed military strategy, but understanding the basics of the battle can open doors to comprehension of events that may connect with students who aren’t versed in the jargon and terminology of 19th century battles.

This summer’s series of blog posts will attempt to use elements of the battle of Gettysburg to help students understand the far reaching impact of what happens both during and after the battles.


The importance of battles

            There’s no denying the importance of battles during the Civil War. The study of which is essential to understanding the Civil War as a whole. President Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural address will state: “…the progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends…” . As stated by Lincoln everything depended on the results of battles. The Confederate nation was certainly dependent on the results of battles for the achievement of their goal of independence from the United States. The Army of Northern Virginia’s victories in the eastern theater in the first half of the war were having an impact on public opinion and morale in the United States, despite the success of Union armies in the western theater. What can we use the results of battles to teach if we are looking at the “progress of our arms”?


Here are just a few examples

  • Elections – results of the capture of Atlanta can directly be tied to Lincoln’s re-election in the fall of 1864
  • Economic mobilization – as a result of the battle of First Bull Run
  • Women’s actions –  Clara Barton at Antietam ,Rose O’Neal Greenhow before 1st Bull Run
  • Slavery – Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation, Sherman’s Special Order 15 during the March to the Sea
  • Recruitment of African Americans as the result of the Confederate victories at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville


Using the Battle of Gettysburg beyond the events of the battle

Most Civil War curriculums cover the battle of Gettysburg, so why not use it to highlight stories of the experiences beyond the battle itself? Students should come into these activities having a basic understanding of the context of the battle which helps teachers create a time sensitive activity that can go beyond just troop movements and military decisions. This post will focus on using the battle of Gettysburg to teach about a Confederate memorial and the discussions surrounding what should go on the memorial that will be placed on the battlefield.


Memorialization on the Battlefield of Gettysburg

In the spring of 2017, the city of New Orleans, Louisiana made the decision to remove 3 Confederate memorials and one to the White League’s victory in the “Battle of Liberty Place” in several public spaces. This decision brought about controversy and discussion about the meaning and purpose of those memorials and what taking them down means. The discussion of Confederate memorialization has long been an issue on the battlefield at Gettysburg. A discussion of the creation of the Virginia Memorial on Seminary Ridge gives us a glimpse as to what the men who fought at the battle thought about putting monuments to the Confederates on the battlefield and the symbolism used.

Virginia Memorial

Virginia Memorial on the Gettysburg Battlefield Controversy

Virginia Memorial Page on StoneSentinels.com

In 1895, the War Department (today’s Defense Department) took over management of the Gettysburg battlefield and the placement of monuments on the battlefield. There were several laws that groups had to follow when creating designs for potential monuments. The main one was that any writing or depiction on the monument must be “without censure, blame, or praise”.

Activity for Students:

Students can examine the letters going back and forth in 1910 and 1912 between officials of the Gettysburg National Park Commission  and officials overseeing the design of the Virginia memorial.

The Gettysburg National Park Commission has two concerns with the initial design for the memorial:

  1. The wording of the inscription on the monument
  2. The placement of the Confederate battle flag on the memorial

Activity Ideas:

A. Have a discussion with students: why does the park commission limit what goes on the monuments to being  “without censure, praise or blame”?

It would be important that students understand the meaning of censure

B. Have students design their own wording for the monument that would pass the “without censure,

praise, or blame” guideline. Have other students evaluate their wording.

The wording originally asked for is :

“Virginia to her soldiers at Gettysburg they fought for the faith of their fathers”

C. Discuss with students why this phrase will be rejected.

In the end the inscription will read : Virginia to her sons at Gettysburg

D. The Virginia Memorial commission wants to put a Confederate battle flag on the monument.

Discuss why or why not that should be allowed.

E. Discuss: What does that tell us about the meaning of the Confederate battle flag to these men in 1912?

In the end: the Confederate battle flag is not allowed on the monument. The state flag of Virginia is placed on the monument instead. This decision was a hotly debated topic at the time.

 Download a Power Point to lead students through the activity

Primary Sources:

Letter from July 31, 1910 referring to the use of the Confederate flag on the memorial

Letter from February 7, 1912 referring to memorials being without “censure, praise, or blame”

Controversy over Paying for the Monument

In 1902, Pennsylvania state representative Thomas V. Cooper introduced legislation that would authorize the appropriation of $20,000 for the construction of the Virginia Memorial.  Supporters argued that the lack of Confederate monuments led to an incomplete story of the battle being told. On the other hand, there are strong feelings about memorialization of the Confederate cause that resulted in the deaths of many Pennsylvanians and Americans. In the end no money from Pennsylvania is given. A good resource is the Park’s blog post by ranger Chris Gwinn on the topic. It’s a quick read that could lead to interesting discussions in class related to the debate today over the removal of Confederate memorials in public spaces.



In future posts , we will examine using students’ understanding of the context of the battle to understand the Gettysburg Address and the impact of the battle on individual soldiers using primary sources.

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